I learnt sarod as I wanted to carry on the legacy of my father and grandfather, says Manik Khan

Manik Khan

Manik Khan   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Sarod exponent Manik Khan talks about his musical journey and what it means to be Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’s son

California-based young sarod maestro Manik Khan’s first visit to Kerala was made possible by Graeme Vanderstol who has, for over half a century, been an ambassador of Indian art and culture in the US. The legendary Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Manik’s father, was a close friend of Vanderstol’s.

Manik was in Kerala for a concert at Kalamandalam to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Kalamandalam’s Kathakali troupe’s trip to the US. In a free-wheeling conversation, Manik talked about his initiation into music, his heritage and vision in life.


You were born and brought up in an ambience engrossed in Indian music. Was it a conscious decision on your part to learn the sarod?

I started learning to play the tabla at the age of 10 from Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, my Baba’s (father) favourite percussionist. Earlier, Baba was followed on the tabla by Pandit Chaturlal. After learning the instrument for less than three years, I decided to switch to the sarod. Mine was a conscious decision, as I wanted to carry on the legacy of my father and grandfather, Ustad Allauddin Khan.

What was it like learning to play the sarod from your father?

Apart from rigorous practice at home, I used to accompany Baba during his concert-tours, which were lessons for an upcoming player. The training was two-pronged — vocal and instrumental. I learnt about 400 ragas from Baba. However, I can only play 40 ragas comfortably on stage.

How do you see your father as a sarod player?

My perception of Baba as an artiste kept on changing over the years. As a kid, I was carried away by the emotions he created through his fingers on the sarod. As I grew up, I noticed his creativity and imagination that knew no bounds. For instance, the way he played raag Gaur Sarang was striking in many respects. Even as he stuck to the same phrase, Baba spontaneously added multiple layers to it and made it refreshing every time he played it. The music that emanated from his sarod was so unique in the sense that it directly conversed with our soul.

Samay raag (time-dictated raga) has been a characteristic of Hindustani music. While in Carnatic classical music, this doesn’t have any takers, in Kerala’s indigenous music system, Sopana sangeetham, this is still valued by some.

The relevance and significance of Samayraag is a matter of debate. It is, in one word, faith-related. Baba had immense faith in it. One’s association with a particular raga sung at a particular point of time, and the feeling it gives is intuitive. You can neither intellectualise nor rationalise it. Raag Basanth is embedded in spring. Malhars are evening ragas. Bhairav is a morning raag, while raag Yaman Kalyan is meant for the evening. I remember, Baba once told us students, “If one ever dared to play Yaman Kalyan at any other time except in the evening, I will close down my school here (in California) and return to India.”

Was Ali Akbar Khan orthodox in his beliefs?

While my grandfather Ustad Allavudin Khan did Namaz five times a day, my father had held the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita and the Bible in high regard. Baba was also drawn to the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. Ultimately, music was his religion. He had given us lots of liberty to be sceptical and to ask questions. Insularity was never part of his identity.

How do you reflect upon the music of Pandit Ravi Shankar and Nikhil Banerjee, the two great luminaries of the sitar?

Both of them were dear disciples of my grandfather. They had nothing in common in terms of sound, texture and treatment of the instrument. I was deeply moved by the mellifluousness of Nikhilji’s playing, his inimitable taans and improvisations. When he came to study under my grandfather, he was already a prodigy.

Raviji had toured with his illustrious brother and his dance ensemble all over the world. He was, hence, familiar with all the intricacies of tala before he began learning under my grandfather. Raviji’s discourses on the sitar were marvellous in many ways as he had imbibed influences from multiple sources.

Baba and Raviji had played together at some point. They parted ways later. But I have seen Baba sitting amongst the audience and listening when Raviji was playing. Raviji too attended Baba’s concerts once in a while. I fondly remember visiting my aunt, Annapurna Devi, a few years ago in India. As you might know, she was leading the life of a recluse. Like my father, she too bore strong traits of seriousness and wit. They were perfect siblings. I noticed they smiled the same way, half-smirks.

Mastering the sarod is a tough task. Do you think this musical instrument can withstand the test of time?

Sarod, as you know, does not have frets. It is an intonation-based instrument and is not as popular as the sitar. If you look at it closer, you can see that it is a percussion-cum-string instrument. The beats on the tabla and the music of the sarod are a perfect blend. With more and more youngsters learning the sarod in India and abroad, it is sure to have sunny days ahead.

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 11:47:27 AM |

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